The Lack of Small Vehicle Options

Considering the ever-rising price of fuel, the ridiculous cost of parking and the clogged state of our roads, I’m surprised we haven’t seen an increase in smaller forms of transport.  How often do you drive your car with more than just you in it?

So why haven’t we seen a rise in motorcycle ownership (technically we have, of more economic models, but I don’t know of anyone who has bought one)?  One answer is that motorbikes aren’t much cheaper to run than a car (most bikes won’t beat a diesel on MPG, require more frequent servicing and require buying safety equipment), plus they have drawbacks such as requiring another licence, they’re not great in inclement weather, you can’t just get in and go like a car, there’s safety issues too (they account for 1% of traffic but make up 20% of deaths and serious injuries).

There’s the scooter option, no licence required, just pass a CBT and you’re away, but you still face many of the same issues as motorbikes (they may be cheaper than a car to buy but they don’t get good MPG).

Several attempts have been made to crack personal transport, we can all remember some of those that failed: the Sinclair C5, the Segway, etc.

So what is it we’re looking for? Continue reading

Steal this Idea: Economy Cruise Control

I don’t do too many long car journeys, but I recently undertook a 300+ mile round trip so got a chance to try out the cruise control function on my car. It’s not the first long run I’ve done in my car but for whatever reason I’ve never bothered before.

Each system is different and it took a bit of time to figure out what I was doing but I soon got the hang of it. On the return part of the journey I didn’t bother with it, instead focusing on getting better MPG (the old game of trying to get the figure on the car computer as high as possible). This meant going slower when heading uphill and picking up speed when heading down. I was amazed at the difference.

Cruise control is a fairly blunt instrument, you set the speed and system will try and maintain it no matter what. You head uphill and it applies more power to overcome the incline, you go downhill and it won’t coast, it’ll brake to get you back down to the set speed. If you have to disengage it for any reason and then re-apply it’ll usually floor it to get back up to speed.

Manufacturers already offer adaptive/autonomous cruise control systems to monitor traffic in front and slow down before speeding up again once in the clear. How about an economy mode for cruise control?

It’s not as simple as just maintaining a constant speed, but it’d be easy enough to detect an incline and not apply additional power, or to let the car cruise down a hill with a degree of leniency for going over the required speed (this is probably the most contentious part, especially if speeding tickets are involved). Add it to the systems that can monitor traffic in front and slowly drop the speed as they approach a slower vehicle and you should see an improvement in MPG compared to traditional cruise control.

Why Electric Cars Are Not the Answer

There seems to be growing agreement that electric cars are ready to take off and start to account of a larger part of global car sales.  First off, I don’t think that’s likely, they’re still too expensive and far too limited, but why are we even talking about them?  They’re supposed to be the great solution to rising oil prices and diminishing oil reserves.

The BBC are out to see if they make the practicality stakes for a start, by driving an electric Mini from London to Edinburgh, a distance of 484 miles.  The trip is estimated to take four days in all, because the Mini takes 10 hours to fully charge.  Now bear in mind that Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson did the same trip in one day and completed the trip, both ways, on one tank of full in a supposedly gas-guzzling V8 Audi (see part 1 on YouTube here, and part 2 here).  He averaged just over 40 MPG, which by today’s standards is actually quite low.  Top Gear also did a challenge where they drove from Basel (in Switzerland) to Blackpool, a distance of  750 miles, on one tank of fuel.  They all picked very different cars.  After the event they found Clarkson’s Jaguar XJ6 twin-turbo diesel  had enough fuel left to cover a further 120 miles despite him not driving economically for most of the trip.

In terms of costs of energy, the electricity wins on the Edinburgh trip (40 hours of electric beats a tank of fuel), but imagine having to spend four days to get there.  You wouldn’t bother.  Take into account you have to spend 40 hours fuelling your car, however and the petrol is vastly more economic. Continue reading

Unreliable Public Transport

So much for trying to get us out of our cars, you can see why they still rule the roost and why the government’s efforts to get us out of them are in vain. The minute we get hit with a few inches of snow, they all grind to a halt. I went to use a train this morning for my commute because I was worried about driving conditions, but they were out of action, so were the buses. So I reluctantly turned to my car and was able to complete my journey in about the same time as usual without incident.

Aside from cutting the huge cost of public transport, priority number one must be keep it running whatever the weather, surely? Where’s the transport minister? I’ll sort him out.

Road Safety

I drive to work along the same stretch of road everyday and I’ve started to notice a pattern in some of the accidents that occur: the low sun. For long stretches the motorway runs almost directly east-west and so you end up being hit head-on by the blinding rays, all it takes is someone to slow down while your vision is impared an bang, multi-car pile-up. Add to this that over the autumn/winter/spring months the roads are covered in salt, there’s spray from other vehicles due to rain or thawing frost, more chance of heavy rain and your windows constantly mist-up due to the temperature differentials and you can see why it’s a recipe for pile-ups, sometimes the cars in front just disappear as the sun catches you dead on and the salt on your windscreen goes opaque. The problem isn’t helped but the seemingly random queues that appear or the hills, which the sun hides behind until you crest it and then hits you full on.

So, aside from windscreen washers which work in sub-zero temperatures that would let you shift the salt build-up and a windscreen with anti-misting agents layered on the inside, I have another idea: polarising filters on your windscreen. What I’m talking about is something that would react to the sunlight and filter it so you can see no matter how bright it got. To be honest, it doesn’t need to be on the windscreen, we all have sun visors in our cars these days, but they’re useless if the sun is too low. Instead of making them simply solid material, why not make them out of some sort of filter with the option of making them completely block all light, or act as a filter so you could have them fully down and see through them? Go one step further with the idea and you could add the some sort of enhanced viewing mode (with an infrared light or the equivalent of a starlight scope on the from of your car) for night-time driving.

Driven in Luxury

The UK government recently proposed sweeping changes to the way drivers are charged for using the roads, now the train operators are warning they may not be able to cope with expected growth (hang on, they’re a business, surely more customers is a good thing? Here’s a tip: buy more trains!). So, with the government keen to force out of our cars, trains being overrun and the bus service a waste of time for long distances, I’m proposing something else: luxury coach services.

There are a number of reasons why the car is the preferred method of transport: privacy, speed, flexibility, ease of access, reliability/dependability and comfort. By that I mean we don’t have to sit near, look at, talk to or hear people we don’t want to; it’s fast; it can go to whatever location we want, whenever we want; it’s parked outside (so you don’t have to get to a station or bus stop); you can guarantee the service is available whenever you need it and it’s a warm, clean, smell-free place to inhabit. Public transport fails on almost all of these counts. In it’s favour is price (although this is disputed) and time (you can spend your time doing something else rather than simply driving, supposedly).
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A Peaceful Time of Year

We’re getting to that period of the year which I enjoy, not because of big holidays, the weather or spending time with family, but because it affords many of us a simple, and often unnoticed, pleasure. I’m talking about the time when schools close for the summer.

Yes, the weather picks up, but as someone who isn’t fond of sitting in the sun and feels the heat more than most, I’m not a big fan of summer (it’s probably my least favourite season, controversial I know). Anyone who has tried to take a holiday over the summer will probably disagree about the kids being out is a good thing. Parents (and poor old teachers) have limited times in which to take holidays as they either have to coincide with when the kids are off to go away, or take time off to stay home and look after them. This means airports are packed, planes are full of hyperactive children and resorts are full of hustle and bustle. Housing estates and shops fill up with them city centres become even more packed than usual.
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